Colombia’s Banana Massacre

banana massacre


Killing in the name of business. It’s hard to imagine today that this could have been even momentarily something to pass without condemnation, but times have changed. On Dec. 6, 1928, Colombian soldiers shot to death banana workers on strike at the United Fruit Company. The U.S. government’s man in Bogotá, Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, sent a dispatch home a month later, informing Washington: “I have the honor to report … that the total number of strikers killed by the Colombian military exceeded one thousand.”

Moneymaking could now return to normal after the month-long strike. Back in the U.S., an aging and ailing Minor Cooper Keith, founder of the United Fruit Company, got the news. Years earlier, Keith had been a restless youngster from New York City who bailed on his private schooling, and at 17 tried his hand at cattle ranching in Texas. But Texas wasn’t big enough for young Keith. Two years after Texas, Keith’s uncle and brothers invited him to Costa Rica to build a railroad. Continue reading on OZY…

photo: Keystone-France/Getty

Sometimes It Takes An Ocean



Before I tell you about all the great things that happened to me on vacation, I should probably mention a couple of things that people always ask about for context: First, I didn’t get sunburned…

This Hotel Prado joint on Colombia’s Caribbean coast was the best spot around. It was vacation. And my girlfriend and I were traveling. She used the whole tube of sunblock, but I forgive her. This is a personal essay about vacation and sun block, an abandoned Colombian commercial shipping wharf, and loving someone. Continue reading on Beacon…

Latin America’s Newest Experiment in Tearing Down Trade Barriers

peru.night.ozy article.pacific alliance


Colombian industrial designer Carlos Maya grabs his luggage, steps off the plane and, like other passengers arriving in Mexico City, heads straight for the immigration line. But Maya’s Colombian passport only gets a quick review, a stamp, and that’s it — no visa required. He’s free to stay for half a year. Why’s he in Mexico? Maya’s selling machinery, and hopes to make a killing under a new trade deal uniting Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. Continue reading on Ozy…

If The Dynamite Goes Off



It was already 11am and our bus had screeched to a halt around 2am that morning. When I woke up, I first thought we had broken down, but then I saw the long line of tractor trailers, engines off, packed like sardines, one after another. Traffic was frozen. It felt like the greatest traffic jam in the world.

Fighting between Colombia’s military and Farc rebels broke out on the road between Barranquilla and Medellín. The road was dynamited, and that meant my bus traveling the route from the coast to the interior was stuck. A personal essay on getting trapped in a mountain traffic jam, Colombia’s armed conflict, and hostility. Continue reading on Beacon…

Her Loyal Lieutenant Is Gone



Let’s face it: the crime committed down at the Getsemani Hotel wasn’t even a very complicated stunt to pull off, nor was it very elegant. But hell… the guys who did it still got away with it.

Would the crime committed against a guest of the Getsemani Hotel ever have happened if Lieutenant Riveros hadn’t been sent away? This is a personal essay about the corruption surrounding a petty crime on the streets of Cartagena, Colombia’s False Positives Scandal, and loyalty. Continue reading on Beacon…

What is a ‘Taita’?

“Out of all the medicinal plants, it’s the father of all of them,” Martín Ágreda tells Colombian news magazine Semana.

Mr. Ágreda is a Taita – a kind of traditional doctor who prepares and administers ayahuasca, a super potent psychedelic tea made from brewing Amazonian vines. It’s an infusion. And you drink it.

But guys like Ágreda are also viewed as shamans – spiritual leaders of indigenous communities who guide people through the experience of ayahuasca.

From Colombian magazine Semana (español):

“Es uno de los remedios de la medicina indígena amazónica que más se ha popularizado en el país. Los Taitas (médicos tradicionales) son los encargados de preparar un jarabe con el bejuco para luego ofrecerlo en un ritual que permite a quienes lo ingieren limpiar su cuerpo y su espíritu. Actualmente, el yagé corre varios riesgos. En la selva es afectado por los químicos rociados para la fumigación de cultivos ilícitos, la construcción de megaproyectos y los hostigamientos provocados por los grupos armados…”

“It’s one of the remedies of Amazonian indigenous medicine most popularized in the country. The ‘Taitas’ (traditional doctors) are in charge of preparing a syrup from the vine of the plant in order to later offer an experience that lets those who take it clean their body and soul. In reality, drinking ayahuasca runs various risks. In the jungle, it’s affected by chemicals for the fumigation of illicit crops, the construction of infrastructure projects and harassment from armed groups…”

Check out these other resources about Ayahuasca

First-hand account of drinking ayahuasca – Benjamin Hansen-Bundy @ Wine & Bowties

Open your mind to the new psychedelic science – WIRED Magazine

New Information on Old Resources: Coverage of Mining in Colombia

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.09.50 AM

I once asked a Colombian business leader why her business publication was set to cover topics like Electric Power, Oil & Gas, and Infrastructure… but not mining.

“It’s very difficult to get accurate data on that sector,” she said. She also added that there is a mix of legal and illegal actors in the mining sector, making it very difficult to profile.

La Silla Vacia, a Colombian digital magazine, is doing something about that difficulty. They’ve just launched a special page (español) that will cover Colombia’s complex mining industry.

From the site…

Aunque la locomotora minera que prometió el presidente Juan Manuel Santos apenas prendió motores y todavía no ha comenzado ningún proyecto nuevo en su gobierno, la minería ya se convirtió en uno de los temas de debate más polarizadores en el país.

Even though the mining engine that President Juan Manuel Santos promised is hardly turning, and none of the new projects of his government have begun, mining has already turned into one of the most polarizing matters of debate in Colombia.

La Silla Vacía covers the mining sector, but also provides a database of the companies, players and interest groups that make it go.

More on Colombia’s mining sector here (español)

Are the FARC afraid of a peace agreement?

“The FARC are scared of reaching a peace agreement,” Daniel Pécaut told Cali based newspaper El Pais de Cali in an interview recently.

Pécaut is a French sociologist and historian who has covered Colombia’s armed conflict almost since it started. He went on to add that it would be very difficult to secure a peace deal in the time remaining.

“Yo creo que será difícil en el plazo que queda y es muy difícil con elecciones sin saber nada de los resultados de meses de negociación.
La idea fundamental es que en el país no hay movilización en favor de la paz, son muy pocos los preocupados por la paz y por eso de los dos lados están más o menos aislados.

“I believe that it will be difficult in the time that remains and it’s very difficult with elections without knowing anything about the results of months of negotiation. The fundamental issue is that there isn’t mobilization in favor of peace, very few are worried over a peace deal and for that reason the two sides are getting more and more isolated.”

It’s been nearly one year after members of Colombia’s government and FARC guerrillas met in Havana, Cuba to start peace talks.

How much do Colombia’s victims deserve?

The ringing in the right ear of Edgar Bermudez has not stopped since the former policeman felt an explosion crack open his face, knock him to the ground, blow out his eyes and steal his sight forever. Never, in that horrifying instant, did he lose consciousness. He was 26 years old.

Edgar was stationed in Nariño, a department in the south west of the country, where Marxist guerrilla and Colombian military vie for territory in a half-century armed conflict that has accounted for over 200,000 Colombian deaths. Edgar was part of a special ops team. Their mission was to eradicate coca grown in rebel FARC-held territory. Starting at 1am in the morning, bombs and grenades rained down on him and his battalion. The young policeman watched his friend die. He almost made it through the 6 hour bombardment unharmed. But then there was the explosion.

“The ringing sound bothers me still. It comes and goes though, so not all the time…” says Edgar over hot chocolate in a quiet cafe in Bogotá’s Palermo neighborhood.


Former policeman Edgar Bermudez is blind after an explosion took away his sight. photo Wesley Tomaselli

There are other things that bother the 34 year old blind man as well: It bothers him how people don’t watch their umbrellas in the rain. He can’t see them. People don’t pay attention. And the pointed tips strike him in the face as the crowds hurry by. It bothers him that he has to use a cane to get around Bogotá. And it bothers him that victims of the country’s 50-year war don’t get the reparations he thinks they deserve.

How to deal with victims and reparations for their losses is the 5th issue on a 6 point agenda being discuss between members of Colombia and the FARC in Havana, Cuba. Nearly one year on, preliminary agreements on only 1 of 6 points have been reached.